INKLINGS: Washday woes - stretched

  • Thursday, August 16, 2012

It’s not often that doing laundry sparks nostalgia. But that’s just what happened recently while I was taking some pairs of Jim’s jeans from the dryer, folding them and stacking them onto a closet shelf. So smooth. So easy. So few steps Then I remembered just how I once had to deal with what we used to call Levis. This was over a half century ago while we were stationed with the USAF in Oxnard, California. We had a clothes washer in the kitchen and a clothes line in the back yard. Jim usually wore an orange flight suit to work, which was easy to wash and light enough to dry quickly in the sun. His other uniforms went to the cleaners. It was the dreadful denims that gave me so much grief.
Anybody out there remember pants stretchers? When I recalled these instruments of washday torment, I assumed they were relics of a best forgotten past. They are still available, I discovered, in lightweight versions that claim to be a cinch to use, with the big benefit being you don’t have to iron. (Somebody hasn’t heard of permanent press and clothes dryers?) The stretchers I used in California were thick, flat and stiff – hard to open and close. You had to wrestle one of them into each leg of the jeans – which I swear were made of bulkier material than they are today. Once you maneuvered the stretchers the length of the legs, you slid them open – bottom and top – as far as they would go. Then you lugged them out to the clothesline. They took forever to dry and were just as hard to get out as they were to get in. By that time, the jeans were wrinkled enough for ironing. (Yes Virginia, some lunatic women once ironed their husband’s jeans.)
Grateful that I didn’t have to work that hard anymore I recollected the washdays of my mother and grandmother. Mom had a wringer washer in the basement. After soaking, she rubbed the worst dirt off via a washboard. After a load was done, she hand cranked each piece of clothing through the wringer – often many times – to get the water out. After that she carried baskets of laundry up steep garage stairs to the backyard to hang.
Grandma Clare was a farm wife, who not only used a washboard, but boiled many work garments over an open fire in a huge copper pot of lye-soaped water. She dipped these clothes into the hot water on the end of a long wooden pole and dipped them out into a series of wooden rinse water tubs. Then she wrung them out by hand and hung them. With a husband and three sons wearing bib overalls while they planted, ploughed and harvested, and two daughters who worked just as hard as she did in dresses, grandma had plenty to do on an all day washday.
She lived into her 80s and mom made it to 92. I’ll bet that was in spite of and not because of those wash days  I’ll also bet, that as much as I used to complain about the pants stretchers – those two women would have traded their washday woes for them in a skinny Summerville minute!
 



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